Ben Gvir sanctions his party MK for insubordination on budget vote boycott

Otzma Yehudit chief ousts lawmaker Almog Cohen from spot on prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; MK slams move as pursuing ‘personal vendettas’

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen attends a Knesset Finance Committee meeting in Jerusalem, January 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen attends a Knesset Finance Committee meeting in Jerusalem, January 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir punished fellow Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Almog Cohen on Tuesday for his public criticism of the party by removing him from his spot on the prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Ben Gvir was furious after Cohen said last week that he did not accept the ultimatum the Otzma Yehudit chief posed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by threatening to boycott the budget votes.

In response to the sanction, Cohen tweeted on Tuesday that he did not think now was the appropriate time for score-settling.

“At a time when crime in the Negev and Galilee is rampant and civilians are being murdered in the street, is it better to deal with creating solutions and less with personal vendettas,” Cohen wrote.

The far-right MK said he was “proud” of his unwavering stance on the budget alongside his vote in favor on Tuesday night “in order to preserve this important right-wing government.”

Cohen said he was “sad to hear” about his ejection from the committee, and implied that he viewed his ouster as being engineered by Chanamel Dorfman, Ben Gvir’s chief of staff.

“I’m just wondering who will replace me, Chanamel?” Cohen tweeted.

Ahead of the sanction against Cohen, Dorfman reportedly wrote in the Otzma Yehudit party WhatsApp group: “I’m beginning to think that Almog is only interested in Almog, not in Itamar, Otzma Yehudit or residents of the Negev.”

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech is expected to replace Cohen as a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech attends a debate in the Knesset plenum, November 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Cohen appeared to split with the party last week after Ben Gvir vowed to boycott the budget votes in the Knesset amid a dispute over further funding for the Negev and Galilee Ministry, which is held by the party.

Cohen stated publicly that he would vote in favor of the budget no matter what, and also held a private meeting with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, which was seen as going behind the back of Ben Gvir amid the negotiations.

Earlier Tuesday, Cohen denied to Ynet that he had been working against his party’s stated interests.

“I was not acting in a way that was disconnected from the party line,” Cohen said, claiming that his meeting with Smotrich “was scheduled a month ago.”

“Those in the party who are mad at me can drink some cold water,” Cohen added.

Ultimately, Netanyahu and Ben Gvir reached a deal Monday evening to secure his party’s votes for the budget in return for an increase in funding for the Negev and Galilee Ministry.

According to a copy of the signed agreement, the Negev and Galilee Ministry will receive an additional NIS 250 million ($68.3 million) in 2024, with the money coming from leftover funds that other government ministries do not spend from their budgets this year.

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